Saturday 23 April 2022

Luke Haines & Peter Buck at The 100 Club, April 18th 2022

Luke Haines & Peter Buck at The 100 Club - photo by Retro Man Blog
Well, if ever there was an intriguing collaboration it was that of The Auteurs and Black Box Recorder frontman Luke Haines and the Rickenbacker-toting guitar hero Peter Buck of R.E.M. Apparently, this unlikely pairing came about after Peter bought one of Luke's Lou Reed paintings as seen on the cover of his "New York In The 70's" album. So, once contact had been made, Luke took the opportunity to see if there was any chance they could work together. They did and the result was the excellent album "Beat Poetry For Survivalists" which was released in 2020 by Cherry Red Records. I was thinking, it's been a pretty long time since I first saw The Auteurs supporting Suede at the Windsor Old Trout back in 1992. I only managed to catch the band once more at the ULU in London a year later and that was the very last time I was to see Luke Haines on stage. My first experience of seeing R.E.M. was in 1989 at the Wembley Arena and they'd just hit the big-time worldwide with the release of "Green". I did see them again one more time at the cavernous Olympia in Earl's Court in 1999 but my aversion to stadium or arena shows meant that would be the last time I'd see the band play live. So, to be standing so close to one of my favourite guitarists some 23 years later in the tiny 100 Club basement was a real thrill. 
Luke Haines & Peter Buck at The 100 Club - photo by Retro Man Blog

Luke Haines & Peter Buck at The 100 Club - photo by Retro Man Blog

Luke reminds us that this gig was originally scheduled to go ahead two years ago but thankfully, I'm pleased to report that it was well worth the long wait and disappointments of the various postponements along the way. I'm chuffed to see Scott McCaughey in the line-up on bass tonight, not only due to his contributions to the later years of R.E.M. but mainly as I'm a big fan of his old outfit, The Young Fresh Fellows and of course, the excellent Minus 5. The mightily impressive Drummer Linda Pitmon is also in the Filthy Friends along with Peter, Scott and Sleater-Kinney's Corin Tucker and then finally, Nick Fowler provides some impressive keyboards and atmospherics. They open with two superb new songs, the Punky rush of "The Commies Are Coming" and the brilliantly titled "British Army on LSD" which Luke tells us were both written well before the current situation in Ukraine. What follows is a mix of new material and all ten songs from the "Beat Poetry For Survivalists" album including the stunning "Jack Parsons" about a Rocket Scientist who accidentally blew himself up. As you would expect from the author of the wonderfully acerbic memoir "Bad Vibes: Britpop and My Part In Its Downfall", Luke's lyrics are shot through with vivid phrases and pop culture references as in "The Last of The Legendary Bigfoot Hunters" that name-checks both Liberace and the Ramones with it's sing-along 'Johnny, Joey, Dee Dee, Tommy' section. Then there's the slow-burning "Apocalypse Beach" which is undercut by Peter's familiar E-Bow drone and the brilliant lyrics somehow manage to include the Clint Eastwood movie "Play Misty For Me", Folk legend Donovan, the Beach Boys and Maria Callas. 
Luke Haines & Peter Buck at The 100 Club - photo by Retro Man Blog

Luke Haines & Peter Buck at The 100 Club - photo by Retro Man Blog

"Bobby's Wild Years" is a stunning tour de force and the spooky "Witch Tariff" has some beautiful guitar motifs running through it and the earworm "All the black cats know where it's at" refrain. Of course most of the new songs played tonight were written during Lockdown but only "Won't Even Get Out of Bed" makes a direct reference to the trials and tribulations of the pandemic. Before another promising new number "Diary of a Crap Artist", Luke says with a self-deprecating grin that it's up to us to decide if it's autobiographical or not! "Psychedelic Sitar Casuals" is probably my highlight of the night and it really whets the appetite for the next LP which will hopefully be out sometime in October. In the meantime, there will be an April Record Store Day release entitled "Wild Companion" which is all ten songs of "Beat Poetry For Survivalists" remixed and 'reimagined' in Dub, Bass and Beats by Jacknife Lee. Anyway, back to tonight's show, they end the main set with "Ugly Dude Blues" but not before Luke tells us that although we are a beautiful audience, we all must know at least one ugly dude. Let's hear it for the ugly dude! Of course they get called back for a well-deserved encore which includes the atmospheric "Exit Space" and a powerful run through of my favourite song from the "Beat Poetry..." album, the excellent "Andy Warhol Was Not Kind". So, all-in-all it was a thoroughly entertaining night in the company of two unlikely musical bedfellows and I can't wait for the next album.

Sunday 10 April 2022

The Undertones Live at The Electric Ballroom, the new compilation "Dig What You Need" and other personal ramblings on the importance of the band and their related offspring...

The Undertones at Camden Electric Ballroom - Photo Retro Man Blog

The Undertones have always held a special place in my heart ever since I first saw them on Top of The Pops as an impressionable 13-year-old back in 1979. I was too young to fully appreciate the initial Punk Rock explosion – the Sex Pistols had already split up and their record company were releasing cash-in singles such as “Silly Thing” and “C’mon Everybody”. Punk was already pretty mainstream, New Wave I guess it was called then, but it did mean that some superb singles were gate-crashing the Top 40 and we got to see loads of exciting bands on TOTP every Thursday evening. The Undertones might not have had the surly aggression of The Stranglers nor the spikey peroxide cool of Generation X and they certainly didn’t have the sharp black and white Mod stylings of The Jam or the theatrical fantasy look of Adam & The Ants but they really struck a chord with me and my pals. The band members were cheeky, smiling and clearly enjoying themselves on the tele and with their snorkel parkas, V-necked jumpers, floppy fringes and questionable complexions we could really relate to them. Most importantly, especially in guitarist Damian O’Neill’s case, they didn’t look much older than we did. So, in 1980 when we started up our very first band in the school music room, our guitarist Jeff copied the guitar swinging style of Damian rather than the high-octane leaps and poses of Mick Jones and Paul Weller. We also butchered “Teenage Kicks” as an encore at our very first gig in the school gym, a C-90 cassette tape of which still exists under lock and key somewhere in the attic. To cap it all, soon after that gig The Undertones released a superb new single about a cousin called Kevin. Hey, I even had a cousin called Kevin! 

The Undertones, Belfast 1978 - Photo by Paul Slattery

John & Damian O'Neill at Camden Electric Ballroom - Photo Retro Man Blog

The band’s second album “Hypnotised” became a firm favourite and even to this day, remains in my “all-time top 10 albums of all time” (as Smashey and Nicey would say). After The Undertones split, the O’Neill brothers were to have a similarly invigorating impact on my life with their new outfit That Petrol Emotion and the blistering 1985 singles “Keen” and “V2”. These were followed a year later by their debut album “Manic Pop Thrill”, the title of which summed up their sound better than anything I could ever think up. On their release, I wrote about these records in my old D.I.Y. cut ‘n’ paste fanzine “Out of Step” – the records were ahead of their time, something that could be said for That Petrol Emotion’s career as a whole I guess. So, let’s fast forward to 2014 and Damian was involved in another pivotal musical moment in my life with the release of "Anima Rising" by a new band called The Everlasting Yeah - who just so happened to be the last line-up of That Petrol Emotion minus singer Steve Mack, who had moved back to the States and now fronts the excellent band Stag. "Anima Rising" must surely rank among the greatest debut albums of all time and I was thrilled to get to meet Damian, along with Raymond Gorman and Ciaran McLaughlin from the band around this time to record our comprehensive and thoroughly entertaining Retrosonic Podcast special about TEY and TPE (as they can handily be abbreviated). 

Steve, Raymond, Brendan & Damian (That Petrol Emotion) at Stag gig, Islngton

The Everlasting Yeah, Half Moon Putney - Photo Retro Man Blog
This led to me putting on a show for The Everlasting Yeah at one of my Retro Man Blog nights at The Half Moon in Putney, a wonderful night that will live long in the memory. I also then did two more Podcast episodes with Damian about his career in music, including his superb solo album “Refit, Revise, Reprise” and contributions to 5 Billion in Diamonds, a kind of super-group project created by Garbage drummer and producer Butch Vig, James Grillo and Andy Jenks and also featuring our mutual acquaintance Ebbot Lundberg of The Soundtrack of Our Lives. Damian also discusses how he and Billy Doherty got to produce the excellent New York based Power Pop band Baby Shakes. All throughout these encounters, I think I did a reasonable job of holding myself together and not collapsing to the floor in a blubbering fan-boy wreck. At least I hope I did. In the meantime, hopping back to 2003, I’d seen The Undertones at the Brighton Concorde 2 for the first time since the band had got back together with vocalist Paul McLoone stepping in to fill the shoes of Feargal Sharkey and I was blown away. They’d just released a superb album of all new material called “Get What You Need” and yes, this really was just what I needed. 

The Undertones in Brighton, 2003 - Photo Retro Man Blog

The lead single “Thrill Me” gave me goose bumps – it had all the unmistakeable melodies of the classic Undertones with the edgy sonic thrill of That Petrol Emotion. The Undertones were back in my life. They released another mighty fine album called “Dig Yourself Deep” in 2007 that again highlighted the fact that the band were very much of the here and now. Damian and Brian O’Neill’s excellent label Dimple Discs Records have just released “Dig What You Need”, a new compilation of the best of these two albums, re-mixed by Paul Tipler and sequenced by Damian. It also marks the first time on vinyl for the featured tracks and is packed full of great numbers such as “Enough”, “She’s So Sweet” and the brooding “Fight My Corner”, which I always thought sounded like a long lost That Petrol Emotion track. The compilation is not only perfect for those that might have overlooked the Undertones ‘Mark 2’ material but is a must-have for the die-hard fan too. It all sounds so fresh and exciting in a different context, especially when played extremely loud on vinyl. 

Soundcheck at Camden Electric Ballroom - Photo Retro Man Blog
And now, rather like one of those annoying backwards and forwards time-travelling dramas, (insert wavy lines and psychedelic music) I find myself in the present day, standing on the side of the stage at the Electric Ballroom in Camden watching The Undertones sound-check. It’s hard not to avoid the lump in the throat, as I think back to myself as that 13-year-old boy transfixed by seeing the band on Top of The Pops. It’s a dream come true to be standing so close to the band that has meant so much to me over the years. The venue starts to fill up and is soon packed to the rafters and there’s barely room to move as the band take the stage and blast straight into “Family Entertainment”. The atmosphere is amazing – there’s such a wonderful vibe as the band speed their way through a career spanning set of almost thirty songs. Paul pulls out all the stops with his high kicks, jumps and Elvis moves – he’s an engaging frontman that has built up a real rapport with the crowd and live, his voice is really something special. Rather like Baz Warne in The Stranglers, Paul has made the position his own on merit – keeping the integrity of the original delivery intact while retaining his own personality. There’s the usual witty on stage banter, mainly from bassist Mickey Bradley as he reads out requests and dedications between songs. 

The Undertones at Camden Electric Ballroom - Photo Retro Man Blog
Damian and John’s guitars are immensely powerful, swapping rhythm and lead parts effortlessly and Billy’s drums propel everything along at breakneck speed. Mickey jokes, “that’s a record, the quickest we’ve ever played that” after one song. “Hypnotised” and “Tearproof” are personal favourites and of course, the pick of faultless singles such as “Here Comes The Summer”, “You’ve Got My Number”, ”Jimmy Jimmy” and the inevitable “Teenage Kicks” are certainly hard to beat. It’s not just about the singles though, they treat us to a plethora of excellent album cuts and B-Sides like “I Gotta Getta”, “Jump Boys”, “True Confessions” and of course “Male Model”. The Paul McLoone era songs featured on “Dig What You Need” such as “Thrill Me”, “Oh Please” and “Dig Yourself Deep”, sit perfectly alongside all the familiar classics and I particularly enjoyed “Here Comes The Rain”, which sounded superb tonight.

The Undertones at Camden Electric Ballroom - Photo Retro Man Blog

I think it’s rare to see such a band where the only disappointment is that they don’t include more “new” material in the set. Given the quality of the songs highlighted on “Dig What You Need”, it’s a bit of a shame that they haven’t released any new material since the 2013 Record Store Day single “Much Too Late”. The band seem content to spend more time touring rather than being cooped up in a studio these days and I suppose you can’t blame them. When you get the chance to play live in front of frenzied, adoring crowds around the world, you’re not going to turn down the opportunity I guess. Anyway, after such an abysmal couple of years, it’s hard to put into words how wonderful tonight’s show was. It was so great to experience once again the sheer joy and life-affirming power of timeless music played by a band that still clearly enjoy themselves as much as we, the fans do. The crowd - from the very front of the stage to the bars at the back and to the balconies above - all singing along together, almost drowning out the band…bloody marvellous!

At the time of writing, it was announced that drummer Billy Doherty unfortunately had a medical emergency, which meant a show had to be cancelled at the last minute. However, the band have recruited Kevin Sharkey as a deputy and the rest of the advertised dates should be going ahead as advertised, but please double check with the venues. Our very best wishes to Billy for a speedy recovery. “Dig What You Need” is available now from Dimple Discs Records.

Please check out the following highlighted links...

The Undertones - official web-site

Damian O'Neill - official web-site

Retrosonic Podcast - From The Undertones to The Monotones with Damian O'Neill
Michael Bradley Radio Show - BBC Radio Ulster

Paul McLoone Show- Spotify Show/Playlists

Dimple Discs Records - official Bandcamp site

 The Rocking Humdingers Club - The Undertones Fan's Facebook page

That Petrol Emotion - official Facebook page 

 The Everlasting Yeah - official Facebook page

 King Afonso Radio Hour - Raymond Gorman's Podcast

Stag (Steve Mack) - official Facebook page

Baby Shakes - official Facebook page

5 Billion in Diamonds - official Facebook page

Retrosonic Podcast - That Petrol Emotion & The Everlasting Yeah special 
(with Damian O'Neill, Raymond Gorman & Ciaran McLaughlin)

Retrosonic Podcast - with special guest Raymond Gorman
Retrosonic Podcast - with special guests Baby Shakes 
Retrosonic Podcast - with special guests 5 Billion in Diamonds

Retro Man Blog - feature on The Everlasting Yeah at The Half Moon Putney

Retro Man Blog - Good Vibrations movie feature with photos by Paul Slattery
Write Wyatt - Malcolm Wyatt's excellent Blog with lots of Undertones related features

For videos of The Undertones at the Camden Electric Ballroom and more...please check out the Retro Man Blog YouTube channel. Here's a little taster for you...enjoy!

Friday 8 April 2022

The Bug Club and Premium Leisure at The Lexington, London Wednesday April 6th

The Bug Club - photo by Retro Man Blog

Now, here was a gig to lift the spirits – The Bug Club at a sold out Lexington. It’s great to catch a band in the ascendancy, to be there when there’s a tangible buzz of excitement amongst the crowd, knowing that there might not be many more chances to see them play in such intimate surroundings. In fact, on the back of the phenomenal demand for tickets, the band have already announced a bigger London show at the nearby Scala in Kings Cross on October 26th. There’s a real sense of anticipation fizzing around the packed out venue and I notice the mix of ages, proving that The Bug Club’s eclectic mix of musical styles and influences appeals equally to old gits like me as well as a much younger audience. Guitarist and Vocalist Sam appears on stage alone and kicks off proceedings with “Pretty As a Dog In The Light”. Drummer Dan and Bassist Tilly take their places and slam into the quick fire “Word of God” which segues into the brilliant “My Baby Loves Rock & Roll Music”, a number that Lou Reed would have been proud to have called his own. 

The Bug Club - photo by Retro Man Blog
Tilly, Dan & Sam of The Bug Club - photo by Retro Man Blog 
The band are much more powerful and tighter than I imagined and they have an irresistible groove running through their more up-tempo songs like “Vegetable Garden” and “The Fixer” which follow the breathtaking opening salvo. There’s a great chemistry between the three bandmates, Dan is a superb drummer, locking into Sam’s rhythmic guitar and Tilly’s solid bass playing booming from a very cool looking vintage amp. Tilly struts around the stage, a constant blur of motion with her mop of blonde curls, only pausing to add vocals to the mix. In fact, it’s the wonderful boy/girl harmonies between Sam and Tilly that’s at the heart of The Bug Club’s appeal and this is apparent on the sublime “Pure Particles”. These infectious melodies and immediately memorable choruses mean that even the new song “Lay Down Your Roses” will be stuck in your head and seem as familiar as an old favourite by the time it ends. A big part of The Bug Club’s charm is that they are impossible to pin down. They can veer from rollicking Punk Rock blasts like “A Love Song” and “Doin’ Time” to beautiful bittersweet songs such as “We’d Feel Sadder at Twilight” with its “I might die today, tomorrow, would I mind?” and “I’d sleep better in the graveyard” refrain reminding me of The Smiths at their best. Then the band can crank out a three-song self-confessed “Classic Rock” section, complete with an ecstatically received drum solo from Dan.

The Bug Club - photo by Retro Man Blog

The Bug Club - photo by Retro Man Blog

They can switch tempos effortlessly and the sinuous “All of The Scariest Monsters Live in London” reminds me of Jonathan Richman while “Checkmate” cranks up the volume to Jon Spencer Blues Explosion levels on which Sam’s guitar work is a joy to behold. He can switch between Wilko Johnson’s stuttering rhythm guitar style to screaming Jimmy Page lead to the Bluesy Garage Rock of Jack White in an instance. Some of the stand out moments for me include the brilliant Pixies’ Quiet Loud Quiet dynamic of “Launching Moondream One” and the guaranteed future Indie classics “If My Mother Thinks I’m Happy” and “We Don’t Need Room For Lovin’”. These two also highlight the Bug Club’s intriguing, often amusing lyrics that are sung word for word by the happy punters around me. What a show, faultless from beginning to end, I’m blown away. 

The Bug Club - photo by Retro Man Blog
The Bug Club - photo by Retro Man Blog
The only downside is how difficult it is to get any physical copies of The Bug Club’s music; something the band admitted on stage was getting them down too. They have released only very limited edition vinyl versions of the “Launching Moondream One” E.P. and “Pure Particles” mini-album, both unfortunately long since sold out. Tilly tells us sadly that they don’t have any records for sale tonight. “Blame Record Store Day!” someone shouts and Tilly responds “yes, please write to the Pressing Plants….Dear Mr. Pressing Plant…” It’s funny but also a bit of a shame and it wouldn’t surprise me at all if there weren’t a host of major record labels circling like greedy vultures ready to remedy this situation. The demand is there for the delights of The Bug Club so just be quick on the uptake for gig tickets and future releases, you don’t want to miss out.


The Bug Club have announced an extensive U.K. tour in October and November so please check out their Facebook page here for details. You can download their releases at the official Bandcamp page and we play one of our favourite tracks from the band in episode 45 of Retrosonic Podcast

I must also mention the excellent support act Premium Leisure, who proved to be the perfect warm up for The Bug Club. Since COVID restrictions have lifted, I’ve been more selective on gig going and so the opportunities to be pleasantly surprised by a new (to me at least) band have been somewhat limited. So, I was glad I caught Premium Leisure, who are the vehicle for the Oxford based songwriter Chris Barker. He’s certainly assembled an excellent line-up to do justice to his songs as the musicianship of his bandmates was superb, particularly the lead guitarist, who’s inventive and atmospheric riffs really impressed. Stand out songs for me were “Easy FM”, “Algorithms”, “Ready For Ever” and the powerful groove and dynamics of “Remedies”. It’s refreshing to see a band where I can’t second-guess their reference points, to just go with the flow of the music without any preconceptions. In fact, I asked Chris about this after their set and he told me that his main influences included White Denim and 70’s Psychedelic Rock. Anyway, I’ll definitely be keeping an eye out on future releases from the band and will play a track from them in our next Retrosonic Podcast episode. For more information on Premium Leisure please check them out here.